Be an advocate for mental health

1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness, Mental Health First Aid teaches you how to help and support them.

Following my participation in Mental Health First Aid training, I realized that the majority of my friends and family have little understanding of mental health and would rather not discuss it. I have learned that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5 percent—experience mental illness in a given year and approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4 percent) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13.3 percent. There are many people living with mental health issues and not receiving the support and care they deserve because of stigmas and fear.

In the Mental Health First Aid training, you learn how to openly communicate about mental health concerns and issues. Mental health problems are common and over half of adults will experience a mental health illness during their lifetime and many of us are not well informed about how to recognize mental health problems, how to respond or what effective treatments are available. Mental Health First Aid teaches action steps called A.L.G.E.E. The acronym stands for:

  • Access for risk of suicide,
  • Listen nonjudgmentally,
  • Give reassurance and information,
  • Encourage appropriate professional help and
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies. 

I encourage you to participate in Mental Health First Aid training and explore the National Alliance on Mental Illness to learn more about mental health. You can learn how to be an advocate to end the stigma of mental health in your community through the National Alliance for Mental Illness Stigma-Free website.   

Think about your own circle of family and friends. Are any of them on medication for anxiety, depression or having problems with addictions? Perhaps talking to them about this article will be your first step towards breaking the stigma of mental health. If almost half of all adults are dealing with a mental health illness, why aren’t we having conversations about it, or better yet, learning about it?

The first step is to become more aware of people in your life who may need support and become informed of the services and programming available in your community. 

Michigan State University Extension offers programming to reduce stress and improve relationships. RELAX: Alternatives to Anger helps participants identify their emotions and teaches strategies to problem solve. Their Stress Less with Mindfulness teaches the basic practice of Mindfulness, which is to focus on the present moment with acceptance free from judgment. 

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